The Kingdom of God is . . .

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Sometimes when I’m reading the Bible the Holy Spirit will point His finger at a phrase like a divine highlighter. That signals me to start to dig and I always discover an unexpected treasure. This morning it was a single word. I was reading in the parables of Jesus in Matthew 20 and the Lord said, “For the kingdom of heaven is like . . .” Is. Not will be. Is. There is a theological principle called “the now and the not yet” and refers generally to prophesy. The idea is like looking at a mountain range from a distance. Some mountains are nearer and some are farther away, but they all appear to be the same from a remote vantage point. It’s only when you draw nearer that you see the difference.

Jesus taught a great deal about the Kingdom of God and Matthew recorded the phrase thirty-one times in his gospel. Five of those mentions have a future focus.  But get this: twenty-five times Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God as a present reality – as a Kingdom that “has come” or “is.” Not just something to look forward to “someday,”  but something that exists, something we can experience and live within now.  How could that be? Because Jesus is the Kingdom of God. When He drew His first breath in the musty stable, the Kingdom of God was present in the world. Okay, but Jesus is not here on earth anymore. But His Spirit is. Jesus said [the Spirit] lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). You and I, as believers in Christ Jesus, as His followers and friends, bring the Kingdom of God to the world in our generation through the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Kingdom of God is here and now – in you and in me. Wherever we go we take the Kingdom of God with us. Whatever we do we involve the Kingdom of God in it. Oh, that ought to give us a sober pause.

It also ought to give us a sense of purpose. Because we bear the Kingdom of God, we can bring the peace and love of God into this hurting and angry world. We can bring the gospel to the lost. We can bring hope to the hopeless. His rule and reign is here and now in us. The Kingdom of God is like . . . you, Beloved.

Dry Ground

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“O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

“Lord, I just feel so dry, like the cracked ground of a desert,” I wrote in my prayer one day.  It was the best description of my life. My soul felt dry and my body was weary.  My spirit longed for Living Water.  In my parched state, I pleaded with God to send relief.

As He so often does, the Holy Spirit sent me on a “Biblical scavenger-hunt” to see what the Word has to say.  He took me to Exodus 14 where Moses, through the power of the Lord, caused the sea to part and the people crossed over “on dry ground.”  He took me to Joshua 3 where again the Israelites crossed the Jordan (at flood stage, mind you) by way of a divinely dried-up riverbed. They didn’t slug through mud and muck but walked on firm, dry land.  Then He took me to Ezekiel 37, where the prophet spoke the Word of the Lord and dry bones came to life again, with tendons and flesh and the breath of Life.  Finally, He took me to Isaiah 53 and reminded me that Jesus was called “a tender shoot, like a root out of dry ground,” (v. 2).

In all of these, He reminded me that dry seasons can be the gateway to the Promised Land.  They can precede a time of awakening and renewal, and they can actually become a place of growth.  I learned through these examples that surviving dry seasons requires perseverance, listening to the Word of God, and being humble and submissive before Him.  These are lifelines during these times when our hearts and our spirits are like a cracked desert.

Beloved, if you are in Christ, God will use even the dry seasons of your life to fulfill His plan and purpose.  You need not be afraid, but press in and press on.  There is Living Water in His Word and His Spirit.  He will send the refreshing you need.  Then “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.  It will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for Joy” (Isaiah 35:1). God will bring beauty to the desert, the wilderness, and your dry heart.

Hebrews: Hold On

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“Do you want goldfish?” Joy’s mommy asked her. “Yeah!” she answered enthusiastically. “I’ll give you some if you take two more bites of spaghetti.” She quickly shoveled in two forkfuls and beamed at her mother with noodles hanging out of her mouth. Some might consider that bribery, but in our house, we call that toddler negotiation. If you do this, I’ll do that.

When the author of Hebrews used the word “if” it’s wasn’t arbitration as if God is negotiating with us. ”If” as it’s used here is a statement of fact. “We are His house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast” (Hebrews 3:6b). That doesn’t mean if we hold on to our faith, then God will save us. It means we prove the genuineness of our profession of faith if we hold fast to the courage and hope we claim to possess.

I just rewrote that last statement because I originally said, “if we hold fast to Jesus with courage and hope.” The Holy Spirit stopped me. “Look at that verse again. What do those words mean?” Courage in this verse means boldness, confidence, and public openness of speech. With that in mind, look back at the end of this verse, “. . . courage and the hope of which we boast.”  A “profession of faith” is a public statement – not that we “chose Jesus,” but that we are confident that He will do what He promised – to save us now and eternally.

As an example, he referenced the Israelites who rebelled against Him by questioning His faithfulness. Quoting from Psalm 95, he said that they “hardened their hearts . . . during the time of testing in the desert.” They whined and complained and doubted God every time they come up against a challenge. They asked, “Is the Lord with us or not?” (Exodus 17:7). Why? Because “they have not known my ways.” They doubted God because they didn’t know Him.

As believers, we should grow in our faith. Our confidence in Jesus should become deeper, not more shallow. If we begin to doubt Him and question His faithfulness we should reconsider the genuineness of our profession and whether or not we really know Him.

Because “if” you know Him, Beloved, you will love and trust Him. All the way to the end.

Chocolate-covered Doughnuts

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Someone brought doughnuts to our office again. And the battle is on. Will I or won’t I. I promised myself that I would eat better and try to lose some weight. But doughnuts. Oh, no! Chocolate covered at that. I love chocolate-covered doughnuts. How do I know the box has chocolate-covered doughnuts? Because I walked over to the table and raised the lid.  Now my hand is reaching out and grabbing this delicious pastry. The first bite is so good. I have given way to temptation. I have succumbed to my weakness. I have betrayed my promise to my body.  But my fall, much like in the garden of Eden, didn’t happen with my first bite, or even raising the box lid and reaching in. It happened when I kept looking at the temptation from my desk. It happened when I began to justify to myself what I had every intention of doing.

The Bible says, “God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).” Oh, how I wish it just stopped at “He will not let you be tempted.” I wish it said that God would not let anyone bring chocolate-covered doughnuts into our office. I wish it said that God would make chocolate-covered doughnuts repulsive to me. But no, it says I will be confronted with temptation. I will have tempting things cross my path. I will have tempting thoughts and desires. It’s guaranteed.

What God has promised is an escape route – a way out when temptation strikes. I wish that meant that all the other staff members would gobble them up before I could get to the table. Sometimes God does intervene in physical ways, but most often the way out is internal, it’s self-control – or more to the point, “Spirit-control.”  It’s listening and responding when the Spirit reminds me of who I am and why I need to separate myself from the temptation. Yes, God provides a way out when we are tempted. The question then is am I willing to look for the way out? When I find it am I willing to use it? And once I’ve used it, am I willing to resist the urge to leave a forwarding address?

Hebrews: Don’t Ignore Jesus

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Have you ever received a message and found another message lurking “between the lines?”  Sometimes reading the Bible is like that. That’s why careful observation is vitally important in Bible study. Hebrews 2:1-4 is one of those message-behind-the-message texts. You recall from our last devotional when the author of Hebrews cautioned his readers to “pay more careful attention . . . to what [they] have heard” because they were in danger of drifting away from the truth. They were about to forsake Jesus for a false “salvation.” He wanted them to think about the reality of their salvation in Christ and stand firm in the truth. The underlying message throughout Hebrews is a warning not to abandon faith in Christ.

“For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation” (Heb. 2:2-3a). The “message spoken by angels” was the Old Testament Law, which carried tremendous weight. Violation of even a single command brought punishment and demanded an elaborate system of sacrifice and atonement. What’s more, those who deliberately violated God’s Law faced death (Num. 15:30).  The gospel story is that a new covenant is now in place and Jesus has taken on the punishment we deserve, even to the point of death. If we ignore this great salvation Christ offers, we will not escape our due punishment. What a terrifying prospect to face a holy God without the blood of Jesus!

If, the author continues, the old covenant that came via angels was binding and every sin was punished, rejecting the salvation of the new covenant carries an even higher penalty – eternal condemnation – because it came through the Lord Himself. He added, “God also testified to it by signs, wonders, and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will” (v. 4). It’s as if he said, “Don’t take my word for it, look at the evidence of all Jesus did and all His followers did through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

The message of salvation through Jesus alone has the weight of heaven behind it, the authority of Christ within it, and the power of the Holy Spirit Spirit through it.  Beloved, I implore you – do not ignore Jesus. “There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

The Joy of the Lord

Photo: my precious Joy – photo by her mommy, Ashley Andrews

You may have noticed when I write the word Joy, I always capitalize it as a nod to my granddaughter Joy. She has brought so much Joy to my life. No, my Joy is not in her, but God has used her to open my crusty heart to receive the Joy of the Lord.  I’ve never been a bubbly, happy-happy person. My best friend always gave me coffee mugs, kitchen towels, and wall hangings with “JOY” plastered on them. She said she was going to force Joy on me “whether I liked it or not.” Don’t tell her I said this, but I did like it. When they told us what our granddaughter’s name was going to be, I called my bestie and we both laughed. But even as much as we love her, the past two years haven’t always been grins and giggles. There have been some hard days, but my Joy has remained. Not because of my granddaughter, but because my Joy is rooted in the Lord.

She’s not the first baby to inspire Joy. When Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, went to visit her much-older cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John, the older woman declared, “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for Joy” (Luke 1:44). How could a baby in the womb recognize the Lord? Because “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 41). That’s the secret to Joy. Joy is not an emotion, it is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). In the Scriptures, fruit is the outward evidence of what is going on inside. We recognize a peach tree by its soft, golden-pink fruit which is produced in the tree. People will recognize the presence of God’s Spirit in us by the fruit: “love, Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control” (vv. 22-23).  When we “live by the spirit” (v. 16) and are “led by the Spirit” (v. 18) and “keep in step with the Spirit” (v. 25) we will exhibit all the fruit of the Spirit.  

Beloved, are you low on fruit? Maybe you need to nurture your soul with more of the Holy Spirit. How? Feed on the Word. Drink in praise. Prune off the dead branches of sin. And let the Son shine on you. That where you’ll find the Joy of the Lord.

No, You’re Not Enough, but You Have All You Need

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The Christian life is not easy. I hear your “Amens.” We have all struggled and stumbled and become weary.  We’ve all felt like giving up. So what would help?  Do you need more faith? Could you use more courage? How about more strength? Patience? Wisdom? Love? Trust? Peace? Self-control? Mercy? Grace? Yeah, me too. To all of the above. And here’s an inside secret: The enemy will constantly reinforce your belief that you are lacking in all these things. Satan wants you and me to be handicapped by worry and fear. Lately, his mantra to me is “You don’t have enough faith for this trial.” And it triggers a spiral of anxiety and fear.

Yesterday a young friend and I talked about how to take our thoughts captive and reject satan’s lies (2 Corinthians 10:5). That’s a powerful lesson – but it’s only half the battle. We then have to fill that empty space with the truth.  So if I reject satan’s lie that I don’t have enough faith, what truth do I need to plug into that space? “God is able to make all grace about to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will about in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8-emphasis added). In one sense satan is right – I do not have enough faith on my own. I am sorely lacking in all the areas above. But we know he is a liar and the father of lies.  – because God said that I have all I need to not only persevere through my trials but to emerge victorious through them. And so do you if you are in Christ. What the enemy doesn’t want you to know is that, because you have the Holy Spirit living in you, He fills in all the gaps in your faith, courage, strength, and all the rest. You and I just have to give Him those places where we feel we’re lacking. My prayer for more faith is met by the Spirit’s abundance.

Beloved, I know you are tired. I know you feel like you’re failing. You’ve told me so. But you have the promise of the Word of God who is ever faithful that He will give you all you need to not just survive this life, but to thrive and to bring Him glory. You have all you need. That’s not spiritual arrogance, that is a promise from God.

Father, Son, and Spirit

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“Jesus Christ carries on intercession for us in heaven; the Holy Ghost carries on intercession in us on earth.” Oswald Chambers.
I came across this quote and was intrigued so I searched the Scriptures (it’s what good Bereans do) and found Paul’s words of the Lord’s intercession for us: “Christ Jesus . . . is at the right and of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34) and the Spirit’s intercession in us: “He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (v. 27).

That’s powerful stuff! Here’s what it means for you and me: Jesus is interceding on our behalf before God, reminding His Father continually that, as believers, we are covered by His blood. The Holy Spirit is interceding on God’s behalf in us, reminding us continually that, as believers, we are set free from the bondage and power of sin. Jesus declares before His Father that you are made right with God and are no longer under condemnation. The Holy Spirit declares to you that you are made right with God and are no longer bound to obey your sinful nature. Every time I fail Jesus tells the Father, “I died for her.” Every time I fail the Holy Spirit tells me, “This is not who you are – let’s get back up and try again.” Jesus asks the Father to send you strength for your daily struggles. The Holy Spirit is the conduit of that strength to you. Jesus stands before the Father on our behalf and the Holy Spirit dwells in us on the Father’s behalf. Maybe that’s not news to you, but it sure rocked my finite mind!  I believe this shows the powerful work of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit in us, perfecting that which began when the Spirit drew us to the Father by the cross of the Son.

From creation to salvation to intercession, the Trinity works in beautiful harmony to accomplish the plan of the ages. That plan includes you and me. How astounding, how utterly marvelous! I pray you will meditate on this amazing truth: you have all the power of heaven working for you and in you to fulfill God’s perfect plan. He is for you Beloved. I hope that blows your mind and fills your heart today.

Are you sorry for your sin?

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The Apostle Paul had such a heart of love for his fellow believers. He prayed for them continually, asking for God’s blessing, favor, light, peace, Joy, hope, wisdom, and power. He encouraged them in the face of great opposition and persecution, even from his own prison cell. But one thing Paul did not do was coddle them in their sin. He called out their squabbling, arrogance, greed, gluttony (ouch), selfishness, and especially their sexual immorality. He would have none of it among God’s people. He was quick to chastise the Corinthian church for tolerating – and even applauding – gross sexual sin among the believers (1 Cor. 5).  He would be appalled at the church today. He later wrote, “I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while – yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance” (2 Cor. 7:8-9).

Paul boldly pointed out their sin in all its ugliness and they were deeply convicted and greatly sorrowed. Have you ever been truly sorry for your sin? Have you ever let the Holy Spirit convict you to the point of grieving for your offense before God? Or have you let the world soothe you with mushy half-truths about love and tolerance? Let me give this to you straight – God loves you, but He does not tolerate sin. He convicts and chastens His children (Hebrews 12:6). That’s how you know He is your Father. The point of this chastening is not just to make you feel bad about yourself (which is how the world spins it). God calls out our sin so that we will turn away from it and turn back to Him. “Godly sorry brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (1 Cor. 7:10).

Let me get very personal. Is there a cherished sin in your life – one you just don’t want to let go of? It may be something “big” like stealing from your job or sexual sin, or it may be something “small” like bitterness or – gulp – gluttony. Take off your worldly glasses and listen to what the Spirit says about it. Beloved, the tug on your heart is godly sorrow. It’s your Father calling you to repentance. Calling you to wholeness. Calling you to Joy.

Glory!

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Why did Jesus die? To atone for our sins, yes. To bear the curse of mankind, yes. To bring redemption to lost sinners, yes. But what if there’s more to it than that. Reading John 17:1-5 and something jumped out at me.

Glory.

Five times in these verses Jesus speaks of glory.

“Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (v. 1).

“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (v. 4).

“And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (v. 5).

Jesus began His prayer by saying, “Father, the time has come.” Because we know “the rest of the story” we automatically think he means the time for His death had come. But these verses tell us Jesus had a much different focus. The time had come – not for death – but for glory!

In fact, not once in those five verses did Jesus even mention death. He spoke of eternal life and the work given to Him by the Father. He talked about making known “the only true God.” But death? Not a word.

The cross was the plan. Glory was the purpose.

But how can the cross bring glory to the Godhead?

By lifting high the Son of God so that all men can see Him and believe and have eternal life. God sent His Son to die for you and me, and in His death and resurrection by the Spirit, to glorify the Father and the Son. I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to shout . . .